yama

Ahimsa—The state of the heart that is free of enemies.

By Marcia Miller

Ahimsa, often translated as nonviolence, is the first Yama (ethical guideline or precept) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is one of the foundations of yoga and something I have practiced and thought about for many years.
At a recent retreat a Nonviolent Communication trainer, Francois Beausoleil, translated ahimsa as “the state of the heart that is free of enemies.”. Somehow my whole body knew that this translation offered me some keys to deepening my practice of ahimsa. In his presentation Francois taught a skill called “Dissolving Enemy Images” that was simple, effective and very powerful. I immediately re-committed myself to this practice which I had learned previously but had let go. I felt absolutely buoyant and excited about the possibility of more peace in my own heart.
And as is so often the case when I commit to a new practice, within a day a situation arose in my life that gave me the opportunity to test my commitment and hone my skills. This was not a tiny misunderstanding but something that was extremely painful for each of us involved. When I looked at what was true for me in the situation I felt feelings of anger, confusion, disappointment, annoyance, concern and a very deep sadness. I was longing for connection, trust, consideration, respect and communication that might lead to a true understanding between us.
The funny thing is that when I tried to see the situation from her side I imagined that she shared these exact same feelings and longings with me! What I know for sure is that when I am in conflict with another and I have a sense of blame, my whole body, especially my heart, feels hard, tiny and cold. This is NOT a feeling I enjoy, even if there is the momentary thrill of feeling righteous. I want to use the skills that will help me feel more curious, open, accepting and compassionate. This is not easy and it requires a deep personal honesty and an attentiveness to all parties involved. I am invited to notice the moment my mind goes to a negative judgment about someone or I have the feeling of being “right.” But “being right” means having a heart that is hard instead of loving, so I’ll pick up my righteousness and trade it in for compassion as often as I can. I have to admit I’m a bit nervous to write this publicly because I fail at this so often. And yet, I am longing for a community of seekers who can support each other in a powerful commitment to ahimsa.
One of my absolute favorite feelings in the world is that moment when something shifts in my understanding that allows an “enemy” to become the “beloved.” It is such a relief and my cold heart floods with the warmth of compassion, love and gratitude. Ahhhh.
Some of you know my favorite yoga text these days is the Vijnana Bhairava translated by Lorin Roche as the Radiance Sutras. Because I couldn’t find a sutra that exactly talks about my experience I decided to write my own.
Your heart is stone and
Your mind is full of outrage.
Your whole body is ELECTRIC—buzzing with righteousness,
You have been wronged!
There is power in this righteous stance but also pain.
The hardness carries a price—
The pain of disconnection with another.
Right here
The moment of transformation.
Breathe, ahhhhh
Remember, all is not what it seems.
Now, see under the waves of distress
You have strong feelings and deep needs—
Go slowly, name them, pause, feel them, pause and rest here.
This is the gift of anger—to know what you most care about.
The other also has strong feelings and deep needs—
Name them, feel them, rest here. ahhh
The moment of softening the heart toward an “enemy”
is as sweet as a kiss on a baby’s fuzzy head.

Marcia has created a class for the fall to share some of the skills involved in practicing ahimsa. Please visit Ahimsa Yoga if you would like more details.

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